Meghan Daly's performance this season with the Westlake High girls' soccer team put her in select company. Just ask Simi Valley Coach Mark Johnson.
Johnson founded the Simi Valley program in 1980 and has coached the Pioneers in more than 400 games. He could be forgiven for being unimpressed with just about any player, but he enthusiastically speaks of Daly, The Times' regional girls' player of the year.
"She sees the whole field at all times, like a Cindy Daws or a Monica Gerardo," said Johnson, naming former standouts at Louisville and Simi Valley, respectively, who are arguably the best girls' players the region has produced.
"Meghan has the finest touch on the ball of any of the young ladies I've seen play against us."
High praise for a player whose team never won a league title or advanced beyond the second round in the Southern Section playoffs.
Daly, a 5-foot-5, 120-pound senior forward, is not physically dominant, although her all-out style of play leaves its mark on opponents. She does not possess the leaping ability to be a consistent threat with headers. Her success lies in intensity, polished ball skills and blazing speed.
"There's nobody as fast as her in the league," Westlake Coach Tahn Hyun said. "But her ability to change speeds is what makes her so dangerous. She'll bring the ball speed down so a defender slows, then in one step she beats them and by the third step she's gone."
Daly scored 25 goals this season and 20 as a junior, showing an ability to unleash a quick, powerful shot with either foot. But what lifted her above the competition was her determination and ability to improve her teammates' level of play.
Johnson used lessons he learned from coaching Gerardo, The Times' regional player of the year in 1995, to effectively defend Daly. Simi Valley defeated and tied the Warriors to finish a point ahead and claim the league crown.
"We let [Daly] have her game, we just didn't let her dish the ball off to the people she wanted to," Johnson said. "After three years, we knew her. But if you haven't seen Meghan play, you wonder what to do with this girl who can attack down your throat or lay it off to someone in the blink of an eye."
Most teams failed to shut down Daly. One week this season, she had seven goals and four assists in three league games. The totals could have been higher but Hyun pulled her off the field in the second half.
Daly became a three-year varsity starter at Westlake after helping her Duxbury, Mass., high school team win a state title as a freshman. Heavily recruited, she signed with San Francisco, declining offers from Cal State Northridge, Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Pacific.
Daly would likely have attracted national interest but missed a chance last year to try out for the Olympic Development Program's West Region team when she collided with a goalkeeper at a California state team practice.
"I got a hematoma on my knee the size of a softball and [the goalkeeper] had a severe concussion," Daly said. "It wiped out a big opportunity for me but I can't play any other way."